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Should we give amnesty to illegal immigrants? | Immigration Matters

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Religious leaders, trade unionists and the House of Lords are urging the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants living and working in the United Kingdom.

It is now widely accepted that there are between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants currently living and working in the U.K. If the government does not allow them to stay and they do not leave, it could take over a decade for the government to track them down and deport them.

“Assuming we can find them, and assuming that people aren’t going away of their own accord, it would take some time,” former immigration minister, Tony McNulty told the BBC (May 18, 2006). He went on to calculate that it would take at least 10 years, at a rate of 25,000 per year. I’m not quite sure about his maths, but you get the point – it’s going to take a very long time to round up and deport 500,000 people.

During a Home Office briefing earlier this year Tony McNulty flatly rejected calls for an amnesty during question time, the official line being that this would only encourage further illegal immigration.

A senior trade union official called for a debate on the amnesty issue. Jack Dromey, deputy secretary general of the Transport and General Workers Union called on the Government to acknowledge the contribution the immigrants are making and adopt a sensible approach towards them.

“You can’t deport half a million workers ” Jack Dromey

In a BBC interview (20 May 2006) he said: “The economy needs migrant labour. They are the backbone of the service economy, cleaning, catering, looking after the old, the sick and the dying, and of food and agriculture.

“Yes, it is true that there are probably half a million here without documents. The question is what do we do about that? You can’t deport half a million workers — who would clean, who would cook, who would pick in our fields.”

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has also called for the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants. The Cardinal said that although the Catholic Church does not encourage or approve of illegal immigration, it could not ignore the plight of people without legal status.

As previously reported a leading think-tank said that regularising the stay of illegal workers would raise over £1bn in tax revenues annually which could them be spent on public services.

“Removing half a million people could cost £4.7 billion” IPPR

In its study, “Irregular migration in the U.K,” the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said £1.04 billion in potential fiscal revenue could be raised if Britain regularised illegal immigrants and allowed them to settle, work and pay their taxes.

The IPRR said trying to remove the almost half a million people living in the country illegally could cost as much as £4.7 billion annually and was “simply not feasible, nor is it desirable.”

House of Lords calls for amnesty

In 2002, a House of Lords report called for an amnesty for the “growing underclass of people” who cannot be removed, whether failed asylum seekers or “illegal” migrants.

The report entitled “A Common Policy On Illegal Immigration,” emphasised that some form of regularisation is unavoidable if a growing underclass of people in an irregular situation, who are vulnerable to exploitation, is not to be created.

It said more could and should be done across the EU to increase the opportunities for legal immigration in order to meet identified labour shortages.

Migrationwatch UK, the anti-immigration pressure group thinks an amnesty would only make things worse. In a press release (25th May 2006) it said “Amnesty for illegals ‘no answer’ to failure of immigration policy”.

Migrationwatch estimates that the illegal population in the UK is between 515,000 to 870,000 and its Chairman Andrew Green went on to say:

‘The clear evidence is that amnesties make a bad situation worse. They are also extremely expensive for the tax payer. For a start, an amnesty would add half a million people to the housing lists as the local authorities would become responsible for their housing. It is also quite wrong in principle to reward illegal behaviour with full access to the welfare state,’ said Sir Andrew Green, Migrationwatch chairman.’

Who are the illegal immigrants?

There are many different categories of illegal immigrants from “back of a lorry” arrivals and failed asylum seekers to people who over stay on a visitor’s visa or expired work permit. Many of these people will find casual labour for cash and can remain undetected for years, barring an immigration raid on their workplace. After 14 years they can even apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. There are also hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants with National Insurance numbers and “valid” visa stamps in their passports who appear to be quite legal. They will find work in care homes, restaurants or the Home Office by virtue of the fact they can produce ID and a National Insurance number. Some of these documents are forgeries, but in most cases they genuine stamps or NI numbers which have been issued in error or which relate to a previous work permit (see article

The Home Office recently admitted that Job Centre staff had been instructed to issue NI numbers even when they had suspicions about the person’s documents.

People in this group are firmly entrenched into normal society. They have bank accounts, visas, NI numbers, credit cards and mortgages. They are also taxpayers. They do not have “Illegal Immigrant” stamped on their forehead so detecting them, let alone deporting them, will prove extremely difficult if not impossible. Perhaps the proposed ID Cards will help this process, although there are, no doubt, gangs of forgers already waiting to start production of fake ID Cards.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. The figures would suggest that, from a practical point of view, an amnesty offers the government an easy ‘way out’ in dealing with the half a million illegal immigrants currently “residing” in the UK. But it would take a brave Home Secretary to face the media backlash that would result from such a decision.

What do you think?

Do you have a solution? Do you feel an amnesty makes sense or are you on the Sir Andrew Green side of the argument?

Email me with your thougths and opinions:


There are a number of changes to forms and processing being implemented (starting 19th June 2006) including: Payment Processing, Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) application forms, updated FLR(IED) Forms, WP1, WP1X, WP3, WP3X and several other work permit forms.

The FLR Forms are particularly important as submitting an incorrect form will mean that “your application will not be valid and will therefore be returned”. In some cases, applicants for further leave to remain could miss the deadline and may have to leave the country if their current visa has expired.

For full details please click here

If you should have any questions or views you would like to express concerning any Work Permit, Visa Extensions, Leave to Remain or any other issues please email Charles Kelly at, visit or call 0870 041 4658 to speak to one of our advisers.

Charles Kelly is a Registered Immigration Adviser, Director of Overseas Consultancy Services, and co-Author of

How 2 Come to the UK to Live Work Study or Visit.

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